You are currently browsing the archive for the Awesome-ness! category.

Hymie’s Records sponsored a customer tour of Orfield Labs in May 2012. Why did we invite our customers to tour a research facility in our neighborhood? Because the building was once home to the Sound 80 recording studio, which had a long history on the cutting edge of the industry.

DSC07240Today, Orfield Labs is listed in the Guinness Book of World Records because its anechoic chamber is the “Quietest Place on Earth” at -13 decibels (you can read more about it here). We’ve stood in that room with others, and its a surreal experience. The building is also noted because Sound 80 was the earliest digital recording studio in the world. In fact, it is believed that the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra’s magnificent recording of Aaron Copland’s Appalachian Spring and the album by jazz group Flim and the BBs were the first digital recordings to be released commercially. The SPCO album earned a well-deserved Grammy. We featured that album in a post you can find here. These recordings were just a few of the many made in the Sound 80 studio.

The SPCO made a second recording at Sound 80 which is not as famous, but nearly as enjoyable. Our copy is, unfortunately, pretty played. Still, in the selection below you can get a sense of both the studio’s potential and the SPCO’s talent. Like the Appalachian Spring album, their recording of Franz Schubert’s fifth symphony was made direct-to-disc, meaning the analogue lacquer was being cut as they performed. Records like this were popular with audiophiles in the late seventies and early eighties because it was believed that bypassing tape produced a cleaner reproduction of the performance. Relatively few classical records were made in this form, and we think the SPCO’s is one of the best.

Sound 80 still exists today, but the company is located in the 41-floor Campbell Mithum Tower downtown (its the one which comes to a triangular peak). According to their website, most of their work today is in the advertising industry, for which co-founder Herb Pilhofer did all kinds of work during his career.


Today and tomorrow we thought we’d listen to some tracks from the enormous variety of records we’ve seen over thee years with Sound 80 credits on the jacket.

The back of this first album by James Strilich tells us the singer “introduced this recording selection during an engagement at the Belle Aire Yacht Club on Lake Minnetonka,” and the collection of covers sounds like the sort of songs you’d hear in a yacht club lounge. We’ve always had a soft spot for albums of popular standards by amateur lounge acts, and this one has its highlights. Strilich’s delivers Gordon Lightfoot’s “If You Could Read my Mind” with a rich tenor over a vaguely ominous keyboard and cordovox backing. Other tracks touch on bossa nova and other seventies lounge standards like “For the Good Times.”

james strilichjames strilich opus 2

johnson and drake

Herb Pilhofer produced the 1973 album Carry It On by Tom Johnson and Guy Drake, which features a large group. The album includes a seven-piece horn section and a ten-piece string section. Pilhofer himself performs electric piano on the album.

philhoffer soundsheetPilhoffer’s own records reflect the same high level of production quality, as well as memorable arrangements. This promotional soundsheet included a “thanks” to Johnson & Drake, so its may have come from the same recording session. The record was actually a promotion for Eva-Tone, who made the flexi-discs down in Deerfield, Illinois, featuring tunes written and arranged by Pilhoffer. The other side explains how you can promote your music or business with similar soundsheets.

Also appearing on Carry It On are bassist Billy Peterson and drummer Bill Berg, who were the house rhythm section at Sound 80. The two were also founding members of Natural Life.

natural life


We first featured the awesome fusion band here in a post of privately-pressed jazz albums from Minnesota. Their three albums (an an early solo record by tenor Robert Rockwell called Androids) are very difficult to track down, even here in the Twin Cities, and even more difficult to find in nice shape. People liked them so much they wore out their copies!

This is probably as good a time as any to point out that we don’t have all these records in stock at your friendly neighborhood record shop at this time. As they turn up, we have recorded them and taken a picture to share here on the blog. Some are not in particularly high demand (nothing personal, Mr. Strilich) and others — like this album by McDonald & Sherby — sell for big bucks to serious collectors.


If you want to hear more from Catharsis, we posted more about their album in one of our “Smackdown” posts, which puts bands with similar names up against each other (McDonald & Sherby faced off against McDonald & Giles).


Another album collectors have asked us about since we first posted it is the first of two featuring Gyp Fox. The bluesy, Dead-ish First Rays appeared in 1978, and on the back notes the band was from Winona. It was recorded at Bob Behr’s “studio” (which suggests maybe it was his house) but mastered at Sound 80. A second album by Fox, Ghost Dance, is more polished and professional sounding, still with a Winona address for the band’s management. This track called “Gettin’ Keyed” from First Rays was one of the highlights.

first rays

The SPCO’s famous recording of Appalachian Spring is often said to have been the first commercially sold digitally recorded album, but it was in fact made at the same time as this jazz record by Flim and the BBs. An interesting aspect of the legacy of these early digital albums is that because the experimental machine used to record them was disassembled in the late 70s, there is no way to produce a proper reissue of them.

Jimmy Johnson, nicknamed Flim, was backed by pianist Bill Barber and Sound 80 veteran Bill Berg (the BBs of the group’s name). While a popular local group composed of successful session musicians, the band is best known for the unique nature of their first two releases. Their self-titled album was intended to be another direct-to-disc production, but the acetate disc produced from the session turned out poorly, and they released the back-up recording, made on the same 50.4 kHz digital processor used for the SPCO recording, in its place. This made their album noteworthy as only the second ever commercial digital recording. Flim and the BBs later recorded their second album in the studio as well. Tricycle became the first non-classical compact disc to be released. Both these sessions were produced by Sound 80s chief engineer, Tom Jung.

This seems like a good place to leave our survey of Sound 80 records for today. In tomorrow’s post we’ll hear Prince’s first appearance on an LP, and some great tunes by the Suicide Commandos and Willie and the Bees. And of course we’ll also hear many of these musicians back up some folk singer from Hibbing, who has been meaning to get around to crediting them on his album Blood on the Tracks for forty years or so.



We came across this Jack Starr LP while organizing records in our storage space. It’s solid early 80s metal, with former members of Riot and Rainbow joining the band.

jack-starr-lp-2Anyway, there’s a picture of Starr and lead singer Rhett Forrester on the back of the jacket and they’re hanging out in a DeLoreon! Now you’re probably thinking that’s pretty cool, because that’s the time machine car and all — but it gets better. This album was released in 1984. That’s a full year before Back to the Future! This guy was so freakin’ awesome that he just drove a DeLoreon because a car with brushed stainless steel paneling and gull doors was his style.

We’ll bet he had to get rid of it after all those sci fi nerds started asking about his “flux capacitor” the next year.


So the other reason we’re so excited to post this is that there’s been a DeLoreon parked on East Lake Street. You might have even driven past it on your way to the record store! It’s the repair shop next to the Arby’s. If you’re interested in building your own time machine, you might want to think twice since these guys recently trashed a customer’s $80,000 Lamborghini. We’re holding out to see if we can get the one which belonged to Jack Starr!


Farewell Milwaukee’s Pop Up Tour will be stopping here at Hymies for a performance on Saturday at noon. They’ll be playing on the stage in the shop instead of on top of their big red bus! The band has two more stops for the day scheduled, and you can find details on their website (here). The country rock outfit is celebrating the release of their fifth album, FM.


And on Sunday we’re thrilled to welcome back our friends Black Market Brass, who last performed here for our block party in April. The umpteen piece Afrobeat ensemble just released their debut album, Cheat and Start a Fight, on Secret Stash Records with a sold out show at the Turf Club last month. Its our pick for the best local album of the year so far. No word yet on whether the LPs, which were delayed at the pressing plant, will be available this weekend — but the band is sure to blow the roof off your friendly neighborhood record store at 4pm on Sunday.


If you can’t wait until Sunday, here’s a taste of Black Market Brass from the Live at Hymie’s compilation LP/DVD which was released in April.


A number of artists are known for their occasional ‘comeback’ revivals: notables include Elvis Presley, whose return from service overseas in Germany was celebrated with the April 1960 LP Elvis is Back! and tenor legend Sonny Rollins, whose first of several sabbaticals ended with the release of The Bridge. The album was so named because Rollins would practice for hours at a time on the Williamsburg Bridge, which spans the East River near where Rollins was living at the time.

Another enormously influential artist who walked away from performing more than once in his career is Little Richard. In the fall of 1957, after releasing a solid dozen hits on the Specialty label — “Good Golly, Miss Molly,” “”Lucille” (our favorite), “Slippin’ and Slidin’,” “Rip it Up,” etc — Little Richard surprised everyone when he announced he was going to leave rock and roll behind to study the ministry.


He described the moment of his conversion as having come during a flight across Australia, when he saw a fireball shoot through the sky and, in a separate account, believed angels were holding the plane aloft. It is believed the celestial event he witnessed was in fact the October 4th launching of Sputnik, Honestly, we’ve never entirely understood how something launched in what is now Kazakhstan could have been seen by an single airline passenger somewhere between Sydney and Melbourne without any other similar account — but this is hardly the only thing about Little Richard which is almost too amazing to be believed.

Little Richard enrolled at Oakwood College in Huntsville, Alabama, but also continued to record, shifting his repertoire to gospel music. One performance earned praise from no less an authority than Mahalia Jackson, and his Quincy Jones-produced album, The King of the Gospel Singers, is a classic within the genre.

Touring as a gospel performer, his rock and roll songs slowly slipped and slid back into his sets, and audiences roared in approval. Soon he was recording new material and in 1965 released a return to rock album, Little Richard is Back. This is the period when Jimi Hendrix (calling himself Maurice James) played in Richard’s band. Hendrix was fired by Richard’s brother in July 1965, in part because his flamboyant antics were upstaging his employer.

Little Richard went through a succession of labels and producers, all of whom he felt did not give him due respect as one of the architects of rock and roll. He felt each were pressuring him to fit his music into Motown’s mold. Adding to his frustration, he was ostracized in the south by conservative religious leaders, who resented his return to secular music, and in much of the country for his insistence that his performances be integrated. So once again he hung up his rock and roll shoes (to borrow a lyric from Chuck Willis).


Little Richard’s second comeback began in 1970 when he signed a contract with Warner Brothers to release his next album on its Reprise imprint. He was granted complete control over the material he would record and over the production of the album, The Rill Thing. The result is the Georgia native’s swampiest album to date, a return to form which featured several new originals written with his long-time manager and collaborator “Bumps” Blackwell (a co-author of many of those 50s Specialty hits).

Our own copy is a radio relic with what appears to be a deliberate scratch through the opening track, “Freedom Blues,” which was also its first single. Even a lousy copy of this album is worth it for the title track, a ten minute instrumental, and some of the other new songs.

Although 1970 was also the year Richard Penniman was finally ordained a minister, it is also around the time his lifestyle began to catch up with him, particular his drug use. His tour to support The Rill Thing was successful, but the performances were inconsistent. He hit it hard the next seven years, and although there were some highlights — especially his performance in Let the Good Times Roll (which makes up an absolutely stunning side of the soundtrack LP) — he couldn’t keep up the pace and left rock and roll for his longest break which began in 1977.

dsc09002Manic as they were, we love those Little Richard records from the 70s. Recently, our friend DJ Truckstashe loaned us a paperback of Rolling Stone interviews published in 1971 because Little Richard was a “must read.” Here are a few passages from David Dalton’s interview shortly after the release of The Rill Thing:



How did you come to write ‘Tutti Frutti’?

Oh my God, my God, let me tell you the good news! I was working at the Greyhound bus station in Macon, Georgia, my Lord, back in 1955.

How old were you then?

O my Lord, that’s the only secret I’ve got. I’m only 24, folks. I was washing dishes at the Greyhound bus station at the time. I couldn’t talk back to my boss man. He would bring all these pots back for me to wash, and one day I said, ‘I’ve got to do something to stop this man bringing back all these pots to me to wash,’ and I said, ‘Awap bop a hip hop a wop bam boom, take ’em out!’ And that’s what I meant at the time. And so I wrote ‘Good Golly Miss Molly” in the kitchen. I wrote “Long Tall Sally” in that kitchen.

How did you get them onto record?

I met a singer, Lloyd Price who had a big hit, “Lawdy Miss Clawdy.” So he came to my home town, I was selling drinks in a little bucket at his dance, and he saw me and I stopped by the stage and I said, ‘I could do that,’ but they wouldn’t let me, so I went back in the dressing room, they had a piano in the dressing room, so I played ‘Tutti Frutti,’ on the piano for Lloyd. Lloyd said, ‘Man, say I believe that could be a hit. I want you to send a tape to Specialty Records.’ So I sent a tape to Specialty and they waited one year before they wrote back to me. I just kept washing dishes.

Like I don’t like the word ‘hippie.’ I call it the ‘real people.’ Because they are saying ‘hippie.’ I was the first one, ’cause I’ve been wearing the long hair and the fancy clothes, I’ve been doing it all my life, so I was the first hippie, yeah, in Macon, Georgia. And everyone would call me silly and stupid, and my father would put me outdoors, he said, ‘The man has gone crazy.’ So I like to say the ‘real people,’ they are willing, they’ve got the guts to admit they’re doing their thing, what they want to do and expressing their rights and don’t care about what society thinks, because what is society? I’ve been called everything but a child of God. Because society is a bunch of old people with money, that stays cloaked up to themselves and stays away from the world’ they want everyone to do as they have done through the years.

Why are people suddenly getting back into the fifties sound?

The reason is music works in a cycle. Where else can it go? It’s just this tall building but it has a foundation; if you take the foundation out the top is gonna fall. This music is the true foundation of the music, what they’re doing today all stems from this. So the kids are going back to it, they heard their mothers talking and they want to get a chance to see what their mothers really enjoyed, and they’re gonna enjoy what their mothers didn’t get a chance to enjoy.

The same as if someone asks me, ‘Little Richard, have you ever seen God? How do you know there is a God?’ I say, ‘Did you ever have a pain?’ They say, ‘yes,’ and I say, ‘Did you ever see it?’ I don’t condemn anyone, there are a lot of drugs and things I don’t know anything about it, but I don’t condemn it. I want to know why, I think we should know why they’re doing it, they could be disheartened, it could be the only way they know out. Who am I to say — I’m not a criteria — that this man is evil because he smokes marijuana. I smoke Kool cigarettes and I believe that marijuana is not as harmful as the Kool cigarettes. I’m not down on the man because he smokes marijuana; to me he’s just as great as President Nixon or Lady Bird or Mrs. Eisenhower or Mr. Eisenhower.

Don’t you play the piano anymore?

The reason I don’t play that one was it was way out of tune, and when I played I put the band out of tune. In Vegas I played the piano on every number. I stand and play with my toes, you should see me with my toes. You’ve never seen toes like Little Richard’s. The livin’ toe, yes Lord.

Are you conscious of being very vocal when you perform, or is it intuition?

The beautiful thing is I just like to say it, and the way I say it they know I don’t mean no harm — shut up, I’d rather do it myself. I just love to talk to the young people. I don’t like to talk to all the old people. They’re old and I’m young and out of place.

Do you get much chance to talk to young people?

Yes, everywhere I go I talk to the young people. In fact, in my personal help, I don’t have nothing but young people. My whole staff is young. I don’t want no old people; I want young ideas so if I don’t think right, they can help me. All those old people thinking about engines, things that happened back in 1900. My Lord, we weren’t even making records then.

Why did you give up music in the fifties?

It was at the time they sent the satellite up, and I was in Sydney, Australia, on a tour with Eddie Cochran, Gene Vincent, and it was a fantastic, monstrous tour. And I had a dream, and I saw some terrible things in this dream. And then I was on the airplane, and I just prayed, I felt like I was holding the plane up. I just had that feeling that God was holding the plane up because I was on the plane; I just felt that so strongly. So I came out of show business and went back to school to study theology, but eventually I decided to come back in this business and teach goodness in this business, not that I’m a minister — but to teach love, because music is the universal language, and to teach love to all people, all me, all women, not separatism, but to teach that we are all one, we are God’s bouquet, and teach it through music, through joy, through happiness.

We’re going to be running re-runs on the Hymies blog for a few days because the internet is broken. Not the whole internet (you wouldn’t be reading this if it was!) but just the internet here at your friendly neighborhood record shop. Digging into the archives it’s impossible to miss our endless fascination with Beethoven, so that’s what we’re going to revisit until the internet tubes are repaired…

You really can’t live in Minnesota without accepting the ever-changing seasons — those folks complaining about the weather are wasting your time. If you don’t like it just wait ’til tomorrow. Spring is welcomed and just as soon gone, replaced by those over-hot afternoons and dry, dormant lawns. Summer in its August glory gives way all too quickly to the cool evenings of September. Soon enough you’re huddled inside, sipping Cider and watching the neighbor across the street shovel his walk.

My own feelings for the seasons seem delayed. Never do I long to walk in a snowstorm more than the second week of May, and at no other time of the year would I more enjoy chasing the ice cream man with the kids than right around Thanksgiving. And right about now? I’m thinking about summer storms.

You’re in the garden, doing a mid-summer chore like weeding (you haven’t given up yet) and there’s a sudden quickening of the breeze. You can hear it in the trees. Soon you can feel an energy in the air as the sky gets darker. It even smells different. And then a few drops, a few more, and then its storming so wildly you scarcely have time to gather your tools and close the shed door before you’re soaked. Or maybe you’re in bed and the rustling of the leaves wakes you. You look out in time to see branches bending, a flash of light and a sudden sheet of rain filling everything out your window.

So many records have songs about the rain it would be impossible to come up with a definitive playlist — we’d never agree. “Rain” was one of the last subjects of Theme Time at the Turf Club, hosted by Pocahontas County, and I had a lot of trouble picking the songs to spin between sets, simply because there were so many…

Songs about the rain offer so many different things — it is one of the most varied ‘themed’ playlists you could create out of any record collection. From ELO’s bombastic “Concerto for a Rainy Day” (side three of Out of the Blue, which happily concludes with “Mr. Blue Sky”) to Pinhead Gunpowder’s “Mpls Song” (posted some time ago here), there is an incredible range. John Coltrane’s evocative “After the Rain” (on Impressions) has always been a favorite of mine, as has Burt Bacharach’s “Raindrops Keep Fallin’ on my Head.” Surely you have favorites, too.

None capture the majestic spectacle of a summer storm — how could something so majestic hold the same power over a single sense? If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you know where we turn at times like this…


A couple years ago we featured a post called “Too Much” (here) about artists who released multiple albums on a single day, including Bruce Springsteen, Tom Waits, and, of course, KISS — All of them are entirely surpassed by a single concert on December 22nd, 1808, when Ludwig van Beethoven debuted his Fifth and Sixth Symphonies at the Theater an der Wien in Vienna.

Many things distinguish Beethoven’s Sixth Symphony in F Major, although its premier was a disaster. It is one of only two given a title by its composer (The Pastoral Symphony) and it is a rare example of explicitly programmatic composition in his oeuvre. Another unique quality is that it is presented in five movements, the final three of which are a seamless program (the tracks run into one another, you know, like in The Wall).

The first movement’s richly developed theme is one of the most memorable in all of classical music, setting the scene for the countryside which the composer often visited while working in Vienna. In the second movement, set around a brook, Beethoven uses woodwinds to represent bird calls, much in the way the French composer and amateur ornithologist Oliver Messiaen would (he was recently featured here on the Hymie’s blog). Beethoven even identifies the birds in his score: the flute representing a nightingale, the clarinet a cuckoo and the oboe a quail.

61F8eVJ3nSL._SX300_The third, fourth and fifth movements are, as mentioned before, a continuous program. All three are in the symphony’s main key of F major. The third is often the subject depicted on album covers, such as this early 60s (date anyone?) recording by George Szell conducting the Cleveland Orchestra. Beethoven titled it “Lustiges Zusammensein der Landleute” (Merry gathering of country folk) — It is the symphony’s scherzo, or it’s light-hearted and fun passage, depicting a dance in the countryside. It grows and grows until a sudden interruption.

In one of the most sublime moments in all music, Beethoven interrupts the gathering with a summer storm. First a few drops from the strings, then with a striking intensity (especially from the double basses) comes the rain. It sounds as though the celebrants struggle to gather themselves and their things before they’re soaked, only to be inundated by the crashing thunder (tympani providing the only percussion) and waves of windy rain.

And in a stunning three minutes it’s passed, giving way to the Allegreto finale, the “Shepherds’ song; cheerful and thankful feelings after the storm,” as described by Beethoven. The passage transforms the Sixth from a mere portrayal of pastoral life to an episode within it.

Beethoven 6th excerpt

(This track includes the coming of the storm, the storm, and its aftermath — the end of the third movement, the entire fourth, and the entire fifth — from an exceptional early 60s recording by the Cleveland Orchestra conducted by George Szell)

And in a stunning three and a half minutes it is passed, giving way to the Allegreto finale, the “Shepherds’ song; cheerful and thankful feelings after the storm,” as described by Beethoven. The passage transforms the Sixth from a mere portrayal of pastoral life to an episode within it.

Other composers have created storms — Haydn ended his Symphony no. 8 in a similar fashion and Vivaldi naturally included one in his Four Seasons — But Beethoven’s cloudburst is the closest thing on record to the real thing. Now that the season has passed — September storms being simply cold and cruel — it’s all I have until I find myself wishing for a walk through fallen leaves by with Nillson’s “Everybody’s Talkin’.”

We’re going to be running re-runs on the Hymies blog for a few days because the internet is broken. Not the whole internet (you wouldn’t be reading this if it was!) but just the internet here at your friendly neighborhood record shop. Digging into the archives it’s impossible to miss Dave’s endless fascination with Beethoven, so that’s what we’re going to revisit until the internet tubes are repaired…

tom waits saturday night lp“Drunk on the Moon” is hardly one of the most memorable songs from those early Tom Waits albums, but it has always conjured some funny images for us. Of course, if you’re actually paying attention he’s not drunk on the moon, he’s enjoying the exuberance of a lovely evening lit by the waning moon. This, of course, is what we’d do if Irene would let us come to the moon with her, and maybe we’d just have a celebratory snifter.

There are a handful of accounts of drunk astronauts, mostly dating from one of the darkest chapters in NASA’s recent history, the same summer US Navy Captain (and astronaut) Lisa Nowak drove nine hundred miles in space diapers to confront and kidnap the girlfriend of a former lover. Her story buried this one, about actual drunk astronauts: colleagues who were cleared for flight in spite of concerns over their intoxication. Nowak, incidentally, denies she was wearing space diapers.

Our interpretation of Tom Waits’ innocuous song has always been wrong. Turns out he is not one of the twelve men who have walked on the moon, and that none of those twelve had the opportunity to get drunk while bouncing over its dusty surface. We often attribute inspired musical accomplishments to drunkenness, perhaps all the way back to Dionysian mythology. This is only sometimes an accurate depiction.

beethoven the 9 szellFor instance, the performers who debuted Beethoven’s Symphony no. 7 in A Major on December 8th, 1813 are said to have thought he was drunk when he completed it. The orchestra, which included Louis Spohr, Antonio Salieri and several nineteenth-century virtuosos, was compelled to reprise the symphony’s Allegretto at the event, which was a charitable fundraiser for wounded veterans.

Regular folks like us, who rarely have enough in the piggy bank to attend the orchestra, can only imagine the fervor instilled by the coda of the symphony’s final movement, an Allegro con brio with a whirling, Dionysian delight. The seventh is one of the most unusual symphonies, not only of Beethoven’s but of the pen of any composer — second movement Allegretto is so popular as to be often performed on its own, and the manic energy of its fourth movement is entirely unique in the music of the romantic era.

Wagner was impelled to declare the seventh the “apotheosis of the dance,” praising its “blissful insolence” and “bacchanalian power” in an oft quoted essay. Klaus Roy’s notes in our copy of George Szell’s late 50s recording of the symphony with the Cleveland Orchestra add to the impression of drunken inspiration: “For drunk he surely was, drunk with a power that is granted to a few mortals: to sustain during the hard work of musical creation and notation a sense of motion so irresistible that he sets his listeners afire with him, every time, and all the time.”

Many believe Beethoven was an alcoholic. It would account for much of his behavior, including oppressive social anxiety and his inconsistent, often callous changes of heart. In spite of the enormous artistic achievements of his last decade (the late quartets and the ninth symphony representing some of the finest art any human being has created) his life’s story is characterized by a steady downward spiral. When he died at fifty-six in 1927, an autopsy revealed signs of cirrhosis, as well as strong traces of lead, which was commonly used (illegally) as a sweetener in cheap wine.

Whether the initial response to Beethoven’s seventh symphony was any more than an oft-repeated misunderstanding is lost to the ages. We’re not even certain who was performing that night. If his contemporaries thought of him as a drunk, this is likewise lost — perhaps no one had the courage to put their convictions in writing. Most were in awe of the maestro. Franz Schubert, after a performance of Beethoven’s String Quartet no 14, lamented, “After this what is there left for us to write?”

History has recorded Beethoven’s father as an abusive alcoholic who beat his son and forced the boy to perform for his friends. Whether Beethoven would have continued the cycle will never be known because he never married or had children. After his brother’s death, Beethoven began a long and hostile battle with his sister-in-law for custody of Karl van Beethoven, the sole heir to the family name. Karl attempted suicide in 1826, and bid farewell to his mortally ill uncle the following year to serve the Austrian army in Jihlava.

urlKarl was pretty unsuccessful, but lived well off his inheritances. He died as young as his uncle, also likely from cirrhosis, so we could speculate he too was an alcoholic. There is only one picture of Karl, forever to live in the shadow of his uncle just as nearly every contemporary composer feared they would. His only son, named for Uncle Ludwig, emigrated to America and worked for a railroad company in Detroit. He and his wife, a concert pianist, had a son named Karl Julius van Beethoven, who died without having children and with him was extinguished the family name Beethoven.

Some of us do struggle with alcoholism. Others feel abandoned, or have never recovered from some rejection. You have no idea the kind of pain the person sitting next to you has survived. Some of us just wish we were appreciated — imagine being Beethoven and at the height of your accomplishment you have no one to make proud. No father, no mother, no children. People will never forget that Beethoven had to be told the audience was applauding the finale (or the scherzo, depending on the account) of his ninth symphony when he conducted its premiere. This was his first appearance before an audience in a dozen years. and he was, by most accounts, several measures off at the end.

So was Beethoven drunk on the moon, perhaps when we composed his Sonata no. 14 at about the age of thirty? Maybe, but the common title “Moonlight” wasn’t applied to the popular work until several years after Beethoven’s death, more than twenty-five years after it was published as Sonata in C# Minor “Quasi una fantasia” — literally “almost a fantasy.” It’s Adagio sostenuto feels more like a funeral dirge than a fantasy. Hector Berlioz called its melody “a lamentation.”

All signs suggest alcoholism as a defining factor in Beethoven’s life, and likely in much of his art. The maestro is largely silent on the subject, although he did once write that the “world doesn’t know that music is the wine which inspires one to new generative processes, and I am the Bacchus who presses out his glorious wine for mankind and makes them spiritually drunk.”

« Older entries § Newer entries »

This site is protected by Comment SPAM Wiper.